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Palmer River Source Tracking, Water Quality Trends Summary, and Watershed Plan

A technical direct assistance project funded by the U.S. EPA Southern New England Program (SNEP)

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Summary:

Figure 1. Rocky Run, 04-24-18 (Palmer River Watershed)Figure 1. Rocky Run, 04-24-18 (Palmer River Watershed)
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The Palmer River, which flows across the Massachusetts (MA) and Rhode Island (RI) state border, is a major second order tributary in the Narragansett Bay watershed. The upper freshwater reaches of the Palmer River begin in Rehoboth, MA with the east and west branches of the river extending into Seekonk and Swansea, MA. Head of tide for the Palmer River is at the outlet of the Shad Factory Pond Dam, downstream of which the Palmer River joins with the Barrington River at Tyler Point in RI to form the Warren River before emptying into the Narragansett Bay. While still dominated by forest, the Palmer River watershed contains significant agriculture and development and faces increasing development pressure. Moreover, multiple studies by both states since 1992 have repeatedly documented continuing impairments in the Palmer River due to elevated levels of fecal indicator bacteria as well as total suspended solids (TSS) and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) (RIDEM, 2002 (PDF) (103 pp, 3.7 MB); ESS Group Inc, 2004 (PDF) (54 pp, 1.8 MB)).

Figure 2. Map of the Palmer River Watershed (NRCS HUC-12, Mapped with ESRI ArcMap 10.3)Figure 2. Map of the Palmer River Watershed (NRCS HUC-12, Mapped with ESRI ArcMap 10.3)
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These studies led to the inclusion of the Palmer River watershed in the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), a joint effort between EPA/state nonpoint source programs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to abate fecal contamination through the installation of agricultural conservation practices or best management practices (BMPs). Water quality sampling since 2012 by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (Mass DEP), the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), and US EPA Region 1 has been correlated with the installation of agricultural BMPs to enable these agencies to monitor the effectiveness of remediation efforts. However, much of the water quality data collected have yet to be evaluated for trends, and the current status of water quality and the effectiveness of agricultural BMP implementation work in the watershed are unknown. To address this gap, beginning in 2017, samples were collected for ribonucleic acid (RNA) microarray analysis using PhyloChip and are awaiting analysis. The PhyloChip is a cutting edge analytical tool that uses specific genetic markers to determine the relative contribution to fecal contamination by different sources (i.e. human, cow, bird, etc.).  

Figure 3. Bryan Dore (EPA Region 1) Collecting Water Quality Data on Rocky Run, 04-24-18 (Palmer River Watershed)Figure 3. Bryan Dore (EPA Region 1) Collecting Water Quality Data on Rocky Run, 04-24-18 (Palmer River Watershed)
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The purpose of the project is to assist US EPA Region 1 with: (1) developing recommendations for use of the PhyloChip to maximize the ability to identify fecal contamination sources with limited resources; (2) analyzing water quality trends in the Palmer River watershed using existing water quality data, geospatial information, and summary papers; and (3) assessing the impact that changing land use is expected to have in the Palmer River watershed and providing recommendations for reducing the impacts of land development on water quality.

Results will be used by US EPA Region 1, state agencies, and local municipalities to 1) revise the current water quality monitoring program, including site selection and parameters (e.g., use of PhyloChip), 2) apply water quality monitoring strategies for use of PhyloChip as a source tracking method in other regional watersheds in the Southeast New England Program (SNEP), 3) determine the water quality status of the Palmer River (e.g., improving, degrading) and its relationship to agricultural BMPs on the landscape, 4) better inform future effectiveness and placement of agricultural BMP work in the watershed, and 5) review local land use regulations and their impacts on water quality.

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EPA's Project Team Consists Of:

EPA Region 1 and Contractors:
Project Partners:

The overall organization of the Project (by Task) is set forth below, along with a proposed schedule. As they become final, Project Reports (deliverables) are provided below:

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Project Background:

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Project Deliverables:

[TBD] = "To Be Developed"

Task 0: Work Plan and Budget Development

Task 1: Project Management and Administration

Task 2: Development of Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP)

Task 3: Source Tracking Sample Selection and Lab Analysis by PhyloChip

  • Subtask 3A: Source Tracking Sampling Selection and Lab Analysis by PhyloChip
    • Finalized Sample Selection [TBD]
  • Subtask 3B: Best Practices Recommendations for PhyloChip
    • Sample Selection Memorandum [TBD]

Task 4: Water Quality Trends Summary Memorandum

  • Final Water Quality Trends Summary Memorandum [TBD]

Task 5: Stakeholder Workshop

  • Workshop Slides [TBD]
  • Workshop Notes [TBD]
  • Workshop Goals and Action Plan [TBD]

Task 6: Land Use and Regulatory Analysis Recommendations

  • Final Land Use and Regulatory Analysis Recommendations Summary [TBD]
  • Presentation Slides [TBD]

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Proposed Project Schedule:

Task / Deliverable Date
Task 0: Work Plan and Budget Development
  Work Plan and Budget 10/9/18
  Progress and Financial Reports Monthly
Task 1: Project Management and Administration
Subtask 1a: Kick-Off Call
  Kick-Off Conference Call 10/23/18
  Call Summary 10/30/18
Subtask 1b: Conference Calls, Meetings, and Project Team Support
  Conference Calls & Summaries, Correspondence to Support Project Monthly
Task 2: Development of QAPP
  Draft QAPP 11/30/18
  Final QAPP 2/4/19
Task 3: Source Tracking Sample Selection
Subtask 3a: Source Tracking Sample Selection and Lab Analysis by PhyloChip
  Draft Memo with Prelim. Subset of Samples for PhyloChip Analysis Apr-19
Subtask 3b: Best Practice Recommendations for PhyloChip
  Final Memo with PhyloChip Results and Recommendations Jun-19
Task 4: Water Quality Trends Summary
  Draft WQ Trends Summary Memo Jun-19
  Final WQ Trends Summary Memo Jul-19
Task 5: Stakeholder Workshop
  Stakeholder Workshop Jun-19
  Workshop Notes and Action Plan Jul-19
Task 6: Land Use and Regulatory Analysis and Recommendations
  Draft Land Use and Regulatory Analysis and Recommendations Summary Aug-19
  Review Meeting Aug-19
  Final Land Use and Regulatory Analysis and Recommendations Summary Sep-19

Note: Timeline may change

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Contacts:

USEPA Project Lead:
Ian Dombroski (dombroski.ian@epa.gov)
Watersheds and Nonpoint Source Unit
Phone: (617)-918-1342

USEPA Project Team:
Tim Bridges (bridges.tim@epa.gov)
Jack Paar III (paar.jack@epa.gov)
New England Regional Lab

Ray Cody (cody.ray@epa.gov)
Caitlyn Whittle (whittle.caitlyn@epa.gov)
Surface Water Branch

Margherita Pryor (pryor.margherita@epa.gov)
Alicia Grimaldi (grimaldi.alicia@epa.gov)
Ocean & Coastal Protection Unit

USEPA SNEP Coordinator:
Karen Simpson (simpson.karen@epa.gov)
Watersheds and Nonpoint Source Unit
Phone: (617) 918-1672

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Project Partners:

Jennifer Sheppard
Regional Monitoring Coordinator
MassDEP Southeast Regional Office
Phone: (508)-946-2701

Heidi Traver (heidi.travers@dem.ri.gov), RIDEM

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Palmer River Water Quality Analysis Project Documents